Designing Platforms (For) Trust

Is trust something we assume already exists? Something we take for granted?

In a recent post, I shared some insights on how an evolving sense of self-love can manifest systemic change inside and outside of organizations, using startups as a primary lens. Now I’d like to offer up an approach to understanding the mechanics of how trust can strengthen our designing of platforms (products, services and/or organizations) through different kinds of human interaction.

Trust is not a given.

A few years ago, I discovered a conversational framework in pre-marital counseling that opened my eyes to how trust might actually operate in relationships (alas, the discovery was a bit late, so you can probably guess what happened to that marriage… ;).

One of the revelations I’ve had is that you don’t just build trust in relationships, you go into relationships having trust in yourself, and holding that trust for exploration with other willing participants.

I sometimes cringe when people talk about trust as though it is a given, as they tend to gloss over the realities of physical and mental interaction. This is especially the case when people talk about social business or social technology innovations. But that is all well and good, because it is all part of the process of awareness, and I think the concepts tied to trust are important for people to build upon in their own ways and at their own paces.

We all know that relationship dynamics can be very complex, but I do believe that trust itself is quite simple in its faculty. I’ve also witnessed some very interesting transformations, both in the startup work I’ve been doing, as well as in some of the innovation work of which I’ve been privileged to be a part. This is one of several scientific studies I’ve researched that seem to corroborate what I’ve experienced in different entrepreneurial and corporate settings.

Here are the elements that are perhaps most relevant to this exploration:

- Self-worth

- Beliefs

- Impulsivity

- Reflectiveness or self-reflection

- Self-regulation

- Willingness or capacity

- Manipulation

- Compromise and agreeability

There are plenty of nuances in each, but from a non-academic, purely experiential perspective, these seem to be the mechanisms that connect the individual (‘self’) with other people, and what constitute ‘functional’ group dynamics.

The parallels with honesty, are also quite inherent, since honesty and trust are the most interdependent elements in personal exchanges.

Asking different questions of ourselves and each other.

If I were to reduce the essence of trust down to single equivalent, it would be this: love of self. A natural extension of that would be confidence in self. This confidence is expressed quite clearly at the personal and collective levels, and takes on various forms of creative and cognitive energy. Some questions to ask ourselves (per the graphic) might be:

* How do I feel about myself when I enter group environments?

* How do I choose to communicate those feelings?

* How do I express my values in such a way that they can be understood?

* Are those values relatable to the context(s) in which we are working or collaborating?

* What are my true intentions?

* What are my perceptions of self as I interact with others?

* What are other people’s perceptions of me (how do I ‘occur’ to them)?

* What am I willing to do or contribute to change those perceptions?

* Can I empathize with others and align my values to theirs as we create certain outcomes, or as we design products or services, or create business units?

* Am I being honest with myself in any and all situations?

Honesty is a tricky one, as we may tell people the truth about what we are experiencing with them, in the moment, yet we may withhold our truest feelings about that actually means. A lot of this ties into how we encounter self-love.

Self-love, of course, doesn’t refer to a reliance on Ego (the self-consumed part of it), but rather a completeness or a mindfulness that one can share love and be loved. Confidence, therefore, can manifest as an organic expression of that self-love, and can literally permeate a room or physical space with an incredible aura. In online spaces, it can certainly catalyze the visions or perceptions of what a relationship might become.

Awareness as self-responsibility.

Lest we forget that we can design platforms, experiences and/or ideas for trust-building, and we can engage in trust-building exercises, but there is a significant awareness factor that cannot be ignored.

Admittedly, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in this respect; it’s one thing to want to trust someone, but it’s another thing to hold trust, earn trust and share trust with other people.

I’ve had a few situations over the last several months in which trust was broken, in part because I failed to see what the potential for trust could even be. That is something I’ve had to own as a part of my self-responsibility, my own learning experience. I also have to reconcile with the possibility that perhaps, to those people, I just wasn’t trustworthy, for whatever reasons there may be (some of those reasons I’m still trying to figure out and incorporate into my own realm of understanding). On a more positive note, I’ve also repaired a couple of broken relationships because I was able to communicate my ownership of the issues, and was able to align a set of values with those people.

So, it seems we can design for trust, but we don’t actually design trust itself, nor do we really ‘engineer’ its mechanisms.

If we choose to look at the world — or, the worlds we choose to create and inhabit — there is undeniable need (urgency?) to build trust in ways that can be sustained, and through which our learning is clear and applicable to our ongoing roles as leaders and managers.

What have been your experiences in trust-building?